Poetry: Motherhood & Myth in THIS BEING DONE by Stephanie L. Harper

What happens when we read time into everything? In This Being Done, time echoes ancient. Thematically, many of these poems felt inspired or echoed by one poem: “How to Take An Amazing Photo of A Solar Eclipse,” a parent watching their child grow up under the stigma surrounding autism: “Trust in his gift of seeing every moment in terms of geological time—/ of constantly holding the cycles of mountains/ rising up and eroding away in his mind’s eye… ” The threads that weave this book together are perspectives on motherhood and femininity seen through both a modern and mythologic lens; in place of sentiment or a conclusion we are given a raging dragon. Harper places the reader in a space that is reaching in all directions of time, hyper-aware of past enacting on the present, on our bodies.

There is a playfulness in Harper’s work. Play is one of the less frequent themes I come across in poetry. The notion of silliness often feels like a forgotten subject; poets want to tackle “bigger things,” despite the need for play in our own busy lives. One poem gives voice to the family dog while another dramatizes paparazzi hovering near a crime scene calling it “Anatomy of a Fustercluck.” “Instead” is a humorous failure to list the things one might do instead, should the speaker stop being a poet.

This book covers a lot of ground in a variety of forms. The complexity of experiences is focused on the body, and less seen through a societal lens. Many of the poems speak to one another, rather than provide a multi-faceted take on one over-arching subject. While not all the poems are silly in tone, nor do they occupy a strictly metaphorical space. In particular, the poem “Brave” details trauma, a speaker’s rape by their soccer coach, calling into the present those inevitable repercussions we face as women who are expected to suck up our feelings and couch them in silence. There is a strong tension built between what is seen and unseen; the private versus the illusion of safety in public. “…though you make sure/ only to be in public places with him,/ in plain sight of your teammates parents…/ People are watching, but they only see the things that have no need/ for invisibility…” “Brave” was such a powerful poem because of it’s frankness. The take-away is that a victim never feels brave. It asks us to rethink our language surrounding victimhood and survival.

In “Lupercalia,” Harper continuously addresses the power and strength of femininity and motherhood met by the glaring hypocrisy of how that strength is oppressed; this pre-roman festival of sex and sacrifice celebrating fertility is rooted in the punishment of a woman who broke her vow of celibacy. The nod to Roman mythology gives the poem a mystical quality; the “we” “reaching/ for our bloodline of lost/ infidel selves   still bound/ to the night’s crystalline tenors.”

This searching, reaching through time, being lost to wind up at discovery—echoes throughout the text.

I also had to laugh (the dark, sad kind) at the predictability of Lupercalia’s eventual erasure via Valentine’s Day. No more sex-charged celebration of the she-wolf; even the vaguely similar Mother’s Day is couched in sentimentality and idealized versions of what a mother should look like. Where is today’s Lupercalia? The celebration of motherhood’s instinctual ferocity?

A mix of academic and down-to-earth, This Being Done asks the reader to engage with intersections of motherhood, femininity and the myths that connect us. The collection provides a series of resistances, to abuse, to silence; celebrating birth and the body’s resiliency.

“This poem is my body/ embryonic   translucent/ distended with new hope.”

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Photo: book plus coffee on my dirty old desk. too small to see: cat hair, dust.

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